The Bookish Type

Book Reviews

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan March 8, 2010

Percy Jackson doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it usually finds him. Kicked out of every school he’s ever attended, bizarre disasters seem to stalk 12-year-old Percy’s every step in The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. The final straw comes when Percy is suddenly attacked by his math teacher Mrs. Dodds, who turns out to be one of Hades’ Furies, and has to defend himself with his Mythology teacher’s pen, which fortunately morphs into a sword when uncapped. After no one at school seems to notice the attack or even remember Mrs. Dodds, Percy demands answers from his mother and she takes him to the seaside cottage where they always spend their vacations. However, they barely reach their safe haven before Percy’s best friend Grover bursts into the cottage in the middle of a raging storm frantically bleating (yes, bleating – he’s a half-goat satyr) that something menacing is coming for the dazed and confused Percy. Percy doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about, but his mother apparently does, and the odd trio make a mad dash for Camp Half-Blood with a monster on their tail. On the way, Percy learns that not only is Grover a satyr, but he personally is a demigod – half mortal, half god.

While Percy struggles to accept this startling truth, the monster catches up with them and Percy has no choice but to fight a second battle, this time without a sword. Percy miraculously manages to defeat the monster and staggers across the boundary line into Camp Half-Blood, the only safe place on earth for his kind, with Grover in tow. He soon discovers that Camp Half-Blood is populated with all kinds of creatures from the world of myth and legend – centaurs, satyrs, wood nymphs, hellhounds, and even a god. At camp, Percy learns the truth about himself and the father he’s never met, the Sea God Poseidon. However, before Percy has time to do much more than recover from his latest brush with death, fate catches up with him again – this time in the form of an ominous prophecy and a dangerous cross-country quest. The big three gods – Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades – are on the brink of war. Zeus’s incredibly powerful weapon, the master bolt, has been stolen and the prime suspect is Percy, acting in his father’s name. Along with Grover and his new demigod friend Annabeth, Percy has no choice but to set out across the country to clear his name and keep the planet from being destroyed in the fallout from the war of the gods.

Rick Riordan’s first novel in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is a fast-paced adventure, as well as a lesson in Greek mythology. Readers barely have time to catch their breath after Percy and his friends destroy one mythical monster before they’re faced with another, even more menacing than the last. The novel is wonderfully written, full of suspenseful action and hilarious quips. Anyone looking to cure their post-Potter depression will find solace within the pages of The Lightning Thief. Riordan creates a world populated with endearing and intriguing characters, as well as sadistic monsters and temperamental gods, and creatively modernizes ancient mythology – for example, the entrance to the Underworld is in Los Angeles (who would have guessed?) and the serpent-headed gorgon Medusa sells garden statues. Readers will root for Percy and his friends as they face impossible odds and risk their lives to do what heroes do best – save the world. Even though this series is written for children, readers of all ages will enjoy Riordan’s perfect blend of adventure, humor and mortal peril, and will rush to the bookstore to pick up the next book in the series, The Sea of Monsters.

Rating: (5/5)

This book can be purchased here.

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Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult February 27, 2010

Nineteen minutes can change your life forever, or end it. Every resident of Sterling, New Hampshire learns this hard lesson one sunny morning in Jodi Picoult’s heart-wrenching novel Nineteen Minutes. Peter Houghton has never been a “social butterfly.” His hand-eye coordination is non-existent, so the jock world is out of his reach. He’s remarkably average (or maybe even a little below-average) in appearance, so he can’t breeze through this superficial world. He’s a geeky computer whiz, and is forever living in his elder brother’s shadow, even after he’s killed in a tragic car accident just shy of his high school graduation. Peter has suffered torment at the hands of his peers his entire life, but he’s always had Josie, daughter of the local judge and his childhood best friend. But Josie isn’t like Peter. She’s graceful and pretty, smart but not nerdy, and when the two friends reach high school she succumbs to her fear of ridicule and the allure of popularity, joining the crowd of jocks and beauties who constantly make Peter’s life a living hell. After what would become their final joke at Peter’s expense, this crowd begins yet another day of school, never expecting it to be the day that Peter finally fights back. When Peter opens fire on the students of Sterling High, leaving a trail of horror and death in his wake, he sets in motion a chain of events from which no one in the small town can escape unscathed.

True to form, Jodi Picoult takes a timely topic that most would rather shove into the dark recesses of their minds like a horrifying nightmare and forces readers to instead face it head-on, often not quite in the way they expect. In Nineteen Minutes, readers see the horrifying school shooting at the heart of the novel from every possible perspective: the police and lawyers, the survivors and their families, and even the shooter and his parents – the latter being perspectives all too frequently overlooked. Picoult brilliantly crafts this tale to show the intricate series of events that can lead someone to commit such an unfathomable act. Readers will be surprised to find themselves pitying Peter, along with the other victims of his crime. While Picoult in no way endorses his actions, she does masterfully give shape and shade to his mind and motives, rather than taking the traditional route of black and white, villain and hero, criminal and victim. Through an interwoven blend of childhood flashbacks, present glimpses, and a timeline of the final hours leading up to Peter’s nineteen minute rampage of terror through Sterling High, Picoult explores the complex psychologies of her characters, and the environment capable of fostering an individual capable of so much violence, making discoveries that will probably surprise most readers. Nineteen Minutes is a heart-pounding and gut-wrenching tale that is hard to hear and perhaps even harder to tell, but it is one that should be heard. The final courtroom scene is worthy of Atticus Finch and the ultimate astonishing plot twist will leave readers reeling. Picoult once again succeeds in crafting a thought-provoking and belief-challenging narrative that readers will still be contemplating months after they’ve turned the final page.

Rating: (3.5/5)

This book can be purchased here.